human trafficking

"Human trafficking has gone underground," Stephanie Sandberg said. "It's gone on to places where you can no longer see it, and so you have to find ways to recognize it in a new way."
Courtesy of Stephanie Sandberg

ArtPrize opens today in Grand Rapids. 

Among the 1,453 artist entries for this year's competition is a play being performed each evening by ADAPT. Theatre Company of Grand Rapids.

The play is Stories in Blue: A Pilgrimage to Heal Human Trafficking.

It's theater, it's an art piece, and it's a social justice campaign.

ER doctors are learning how to identity patients who may be victims of trafficking
Ira Gelb / Creative Commons

So far this year, 133 cases of human trafficking have been reported in Michigan. Another 436 calls and emails referencing human trafficking Michigan have come in to the National Human Trafficking Center.

But spotting these victims can be tough: they’re often isolated, and frequently forced to move from city to city and state to state.

One place experts say they do show up? The emergency room.

Mary Finn told us the study asked pimps in Atlanta and Chicago how technology has changed their business.
pixabay user Unsplash / Public Domain

It's known as the world's oldest profession, but make no mistake: Some 80% of all sales of sex happen online.

That figure comes from a first-of-its-kind study done by researchers from Michigan State University and Loyola University Chicago. They interviewed pimps in Atlanta and Chicago to find out how the digital world has affected the way they do business.

ER doctors are learning how to identity patients who may be victims of trafficking
Ira Gelb / Creative Commons

The Firekeepers Human Trafficking Awareness Program is continuing its efforts to raise human trafficking awareness. Over the past year, the program has been working to combat human trafficking in its casino and hotel. The program provides training to employees on how to spot and report possible human trafficking.


Human trafficking is a growing problem in our state. Reported cases of human trafficking in Michigan were up 16% in 2015 from the year before.

And that's only counting the reported cases. Many more go unreported.

Laura Swanson

It’s hard not to picture the movie Taken when someone says “human trafficking” – the women lured into a Frenchman’s car and Liam Neeson’s ensuing action scenes.

But filmmaker Laura Swanson said that narrow idea of what human trafficking encompasses is misleading.

“Certainly that does happen, but that’s not the majority of the cases,” Swanson said. “And I think people really need to start reframing the ways in which they see human trafficking so that we can amend our laws and legal system to accompany what we need to do to get resources and to provide the best support for victims and survivors.”

Swanson’s documentary film Break the Chain aims to do just that – to reframe how we understand human trafficking.

Laura Swanson

When Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III was charged with a wide range of prostitution-related crimes, it managed to refocus attention on sex crimes and human trafficking in Michigan.  Victims of these crimes include people forced to sell their bodies for sex and people used for cheap labor.  

Break the Chain, a new documentary on human trafficking in Michigan, premiers next month. 

Filmmaker Laura Swanson and human trafficking survivor Debbie joined Cynthia Canty on today's Stateside.


Five undocumented workers from Kim's Garden were living in the basement of the owner's home when they were killed in a house fire.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A suburban Detroit couple is facing federal charges for “harboring undocumented immigrants for commercial gain.”

The charges come after five young men, aged 16-23, died in a fire at Roger Tam and Ada Lei’s home last month.

Officials say the men were all Mexican nationals in the U.S. illegally.

They apparently lived in the Novi home’s basement, and worked at the couple’s nearby Chinese restaurant, Kim's Garden.

They were unable to escape when a mattress caught fire there Jan. 31.

ER doctors are learning how to identity patients who may be victims of trafficking
Ira Gelb / Creative Commons

Human trafficking is a $32 billion global industry.

Between 2013 and 2014, there were 100 state and 94 federal cases of human trafficking in Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland counties, according to the Michigan State Police.

The law enforcement agency is partnering with the Salvation Army and other agencies to help victims of these crimes rebuild their lives.


The Human Trafficking Specialty Court in Washtenaw County is the first of its kind in Michigan.

For Elizabeth Campbell from the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, who helped develop this specialty court, the goal is “to change the way that the criminal legal system responds to human trafficking in a few different ways.”

ER doctors are learning how to identity patients who may be victims of trafficking
Ira Gelb / Creative Commons

The Washtenaw County Human Trafficking Court helps victims who are facing prostitution or related charges avoid jail time.

Instead, the year-old program steers victims toward legal, medical and rehab assistance as part of a two-year diversion program.

Paul Sullivan / Flickr Creative Commons

The Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division (CVED) of the Michigan State Police has launched a new state initiative to involve the trucking industry in its fight against human trafficking.

Captain Michael Krumm, commander of the CVED, said a lot of human trafficking activity takes place in truck stops and rest areas. So "as the eyes and ears of the nation's highways," the trucking industry is in a good position to help.

Thanks to a new package of laws that took effect last week, Michigan has a tougher new approach to human trafficking and the sex trade.

Bridgette Carr, a University of Michigan law professor, served on the state task force whose human trafficking report helped guide the Legislature as it crafted the new law, which has garnered lots of praise.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state Senate Judiciary committee will consider a bill tomorrow that would make it easier for criminals to have part of their records expunged.

House Bill 4186 would allow people convicted of a single felony or a couple of misdemeanors to apply to have them removed from their record.

flickr user FatMandy /

Governor Rick Snyder has approved new laws to make it easier to prosecute pimps and human traffickers. The legislation is supposed to protect victims of human trafficking from criminal charges. One of the new laws shields children who are trafficked from prostitution charges. 

Theresa Flores wrote a book about being trafficked as a teenager in metro Detroit. She says protection for victims will encourage them to cooperate with prosecutors to help send traffickers to prison. 

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Bill Schuette

The Michigan Legislature has given final approval to bills that aim to "fully combat human trafficking and assist victims."

The bills now head to Gov. Rick Snyder.

Among other things, the bills would let victims clear their criminal records. Minors under age 18 suspected of prostitution would be presumed to be trafficking victims, and "johns" soliciting sex from minors would face tougher criminal penalties.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bills meant to fight human trafficking in Michigan are on track to clear the state Legislature before the end of this week.

The bipartisan legislation would make it easier to prosecute human trafficking cases, increase penalties, and provide more services for victims. The state House passed several bills in the package on Wednesday.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers are making their way through more than a dozen bills targeting human trafficking this week.

The bills would provide a safe harbor for victims, allow victims to sue their abusers, and eliminate the statute of limitations on trafficking offenses.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette kicked off his reelection campaign today in his hometown of Midland.

In his speech, Schuette touted his record in office, including efforts to combat human trafficking and protect pensions.

“A record that’s strong and clear. It’s a record of being a voice for victims. A voice for the constitution and a voice for Michigan,” says Schuette. “It’s a long election and I’m going to win. I’m going to take my case to the citizens across the state of Michigan.”

Schuette didn’t directly address the controversy over same-sex marriage.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

There are dozens of bills before the Michigan Legislature dealing with human trafficking.  

Another 23 bills were unveiled today as part of a package dealing with forced labor and prostitution.

Kurt Heise is the chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee. He says the bills introduced this week not only go after the pimps and johns but also acknowledges the needs of the victims.

“We look at the young people and the vulnerable adults who are trafficked as victims and that they get the love and support that we can provide,” says Heise.

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Courtesy of Bill Schuette

A state task force says a new approach is needed to address human trafficking in Michigan.

Among its recommendations: Minors who are sold for sex or cheap labor should not be charged with prostitution, delinquency or some other crime.

“A 15-year-old girl who is forced to have sex is a victim and not a criminal,” says state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who convened the commission. “Everyone needs to understand this.”

Advocates who participated say that means doing more than just changing laws. 

“How can we get them into that category of victim and out of that category of criminal?” says Bridgette Carr of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan.

The FBI has just completed a nationwide sweep resulting in the arrest of 150 pimps and the rescue of 105 children who had been forced into prostitution. We took a closer look at human trafficking in our state.

And, we spoke with Leigh Ann Ulrey, one of 30 college graduates to be selected for the Challenge Detroit program.

And, a new House bill could eliminate state income tax. State Representative Bob Genetski joined us to talk about why he thinks income tax is unnecessary.

Also, self-driving cars could be available to consumers within the next 2-3 years, according to Google. We found out what the future of transportation might look like.

First on the show, there was an important handshake this afternoon in Lansing.

UAW President Bob King shook hands with state government officials to officially launch the start of contract talks.

UAW Local 6000's contract with the state expires at the end of 2014. But the state needs to finalize the next contract by the end of this year in order to get it funded in next year's budget. Local 6000 represents 17,000 state employees.

Let's look at what the big issues might be in the negotiations.

Rick Pluta, Michigan Public Radio Network's Lansing bureau chief, joined us today.

user: The Ohio State University / Flickr

The FBI recently completed a national sweep that led to the arrests of 150 pimps and the rescue of 105 children who were forced into sex slavery. The sweep was called the Innocence Lost National Initiative.

There were ten children (as young as 13-years-old) rescued in Detroit and 18 arrests were made, which put the city in the number two slot in the national sweep's ranking.

Elizabeth Campbell, a staff attorney for the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan, wasn't surprised by those numbers, even though they were higher than many of the cities that were included. 

"Every American community has this problem, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I'd like to believe that [higher numbers in Michigan] are because we have great cooperation with law enforcement, but we also have certain factors that have made us susceptible to such operations."

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Wolf hunting licenses may be delayed

Michigan wolf hunting licenses are expected to go on sale Saturday. But Ed Golder, Michigan's Department of Natural Resources public information officer, says that date may not work out because of high demand. When the wolf hunting licenses do go on sale, the state will sell up to twelve-hundred of them. The hunt is limited to six counties in the Upper Peninsula. Only 43 wolves will be allowed to be killed.

Energy assistance will help low-income families

State regulators have approved a 99-cent monthly fee to help low-income Michigan residents pay their energy bills and avoid losing electricity, natural gas, or propane. The charge applies to all customers, starting in September, unless a utility opts out of the program. The Michigan Public Service Commission says only a few so far have declined to participate.

According to the Associated Press, if a utility opts out of the program, it can't cut off power between November and April 15th. Michigan's largest utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, plan to participate.

MI State Police cracking down on human trafficking

Michigan State Police say 10 teenage girls forced into prostitution have been rescued as part of a national crackdown. Detroit Sergeant Ed Price says the girls were removed from motels and other locations last week in Wayne, Genesee, Oakland and Macomb counties. According to the Associated Press, eighteen suspected pimps were arrested, although only one in Flint has been charged so far. The investigation is ongoing.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Governor Snyder expected to appoint an EM for Detroit today

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to announce his pick for Detroit's emergency manager today. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"Snyder is widely expected to name high-powered Washington, D.C., lawyer Kevyn Orr, 54, who worked in a number of federal government roles and had a hand in Chrysler’s bankruptcy turnaround."

Commission will study human trafficking

"A commission will spend six months studying the problem of human trafficking and child prostitution in Michigan. The task force will then deliver a set of recommendations on new laws and ways to connect victims of human trafficking with help. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette convened the task force," Rick Pluta reports.

Odawa tribe to allow same-sex marriage

"The chairman of a northern Michigan Indian tribe says he'll sign a same-sex marriage bill Friday, then preside at the wedding of two men. The legislative body of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians voted 5-4 on March 3 to amend the Harbor Springs-based tribe's laws to allow same-sex marriages," the Associated Press reports.

A report says as many as 15 people sent complaints to the Attorney General Bill Schuette's office more than a year before an investigation into the water crisis was launched.
Bill Schuette /

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

When you hear the term "human trafficking" and let yourself think about what that entails, you might think of it as something that happens overseas, perhaps in exotic places.


The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

Though largely unrecognized and difficult to pin a number to, human trafficking occurs in Michigan. Theresa Flores says the practice increases during events like the North American International Auto Show.

Flores heads Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P), a group actively working to rescue young girls and boys from trafficking.

S.O.A.P. is making a visit to the Auto Show in an attempt to reduce the prostitution that can plague large events like this.

Survivor of sex trafficking tells her story

Feb 8, 2012

Theresa Flores is a social worker, and director of education and training for Gracehaven House, in Ohio. It's a long term faith based care and rehabilitation home for young girls who have been victimized by human trafficking.

Flores grew up in an upper-middle class catholic home. Many years ago she found herself in the same situation as some of the young women she now helps.

Flores says she moved around a lot. Her father had a good job, and her parents were very strict. They landed in Birmingham, Michigan.

Helping victims of human trafficking

Feb 7, 2012
user: isabel bolinn / flickr

We continue our series on human trafficking.

Identifying victims of this crime can be difficult. But as Amy Allen tells us, there are signs we can watch out for.

Allen is a victim and witness specialist from Homeland Security Investigations. She is stationed in Michigan and travels locally and abroad to help victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking, modern-day slavery

Feb 6, 2012
UM Law School's Human Trafficking Clinic.

Human trafficking is a growing crime in Michigan, and the U.S.

At its most basic level, even identifying victims of this crime can be difficult.

In the first of our three part series we’ll look at the challenge of providing assistance to victims.

Michigan Radio’s Jennifer White spoke with Elizabeth Campbell, Staff Attorney at the University of Michigan Law School’s Human Trafficking Clinic.

Campbell says there are mostly two categories of human trafficking.